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on 19 July 2014
I think that this novel appears fragmented because there are a lot of different characters who when interviewed help to form a picture of the scientist Felix Hoenikker. In relation to the Bokonon religion and all the quotes and poems, it's almost like nonsense poetry, making little sense in places. In this sense it is very Modernist, to see the truth within the chaos.

It is an interesting start to the book where the narrator asks us to call him Jonah. Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh, to warn the people of the impending doom. As a prophet he had a certain authority and responsibility, but he was wilful and disobedient and went in the opposite direction. Is the narrator here to point out our own destructive tendencies and that if we don't reform, it will lead to our own destruction, certainly his book, The End of the World would suggest this. However the book makes it point with a large degree of humour. "When I was a younger man - two wives ago, 250,000 cigarettes ago, 3,000 quartz of booze ago .." The modern vices, common to all humanity, who make mistakes. He talks about humanity being divided into teams, a karas, who do God's will without ever knowing what they are doing. So much for the illusion of free will. "If you find your life tangled up with someone else's life for no very logical reason, that person may be a member of your karas." The most farcical example of this is Mrs Crosby, formerly Hoosier. She proceeds to tell the narrator that Hoosiers are in charge of everything, as if it is a prestigious name, akin to Kennedy or Rockefeller.

The narrators search is for Felix Hoenikker and all of the people he meets along the way tell him something about the man and his creation, Ice-9. Starting with his children who appear to have been secondary to his work and after his death seek to exploit his creation for their own gain. I do find the issue of Newt and Zinka's height a little disturbing. In today's PC world the 'm' word wouldn't be used as it's grossly offensive. Why the author chooses to use it is a bit of a mystery. Mrs Crosby will later introduce the narrator to Newt and Angela as fellow Hoosiers. "Angela persisted in treating Newt like an infant - and he forgave her for it with amiable grace I would have thought impossible for one so small." He also describes her as, "a God-awfully insensitive woman, with no feeling for what smallness meant to Newt." I don't think the writer/narrator does either and that's the funny part, as he thinks his attitude is better.

It is Newt who gives an insight into the title - Cat's Cradle, being a child's game. His father had no time for games, or his children it seems, but the string of a cat's cradle obviously reminded him of something in his childhood. The idea of the small cradle holding a cat is absurd and relies heavily on the imagination. Equally the nursery rhyme and physical description of his father makes the whole incident macabre.

It's interesting that the place where Dr Breed works is called Ilium his secretary is Miss Faust. We learn that Dr Breed sees the place as a wholesome family town, yet the narrator has been discussing Hoenikker and getting drunk with an old classmate, who was a prostitute, the night before. This makes one wonder what other secrets there are, beneath the topless towers of Ilium, as Marlow would say. For Dr Breed, "New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have .. the richer we become." For Bolononists this is funny, presumably because truth is illusory.

"Ice-nine was the last gift Felix Hoenikker created for mankind before going to his just reward." This is a little tongue in cheek as he has created something which could destroy the earth. Something to stop marines sinking into the mud, will now kill mankind. Idea of just reward could mean praise or punishment depending on your viewpoint.

Marvin Breed is Dr Breeds brother and runs the funeral parlour. It is through this interview that we learn that Hoenikker never put a headstone on his wife's grave. It is the children who use his Nobel Prize money to buy the large headstone and decorate it with their words. The narrator comments on the fact that it is a small word and Marvin replies, "When you put it in a cemetery it is."
"San Lorenzo .. A healthy, happy, progressive, freedom loving, beautiful nation makes itself extremely attractive to American investors and tourists alike." This is the mantra of the island, prosperity and investment. The idea that they will say anything, to gain the investment needed to move forward within a capitalist system. It's a universal truth that's never spoken and to see it in writing makes it funny.

Crosby is an entrepreneur making bicycles, but complains that they have to spend time trying to make everyone happy, no one can be fired, and if they make anything the government accuses them of inhumane practices. He says of San Lorenzo, "The people down there are poor enough ans scared enough and ignorant enough to have some common sense!" In other words they can be exploited, this is the tragedy. He goes on to explain later in the novel, "A pissant is somebody who thinks he's so damn smart, he never can keep his mouth shut." This just about sums up the speaker. The way he criticises and complains about Philip Castle, who shows him no deference, is also a satirical portrait of the way Americans behave abroad.

When they get to San Lorenzo we find the National Anthem is sung to the tune of Home on the Range, a place where the living is grand. Julian Castle, founder of the medical centre, the House of Hope and Mercy and father of Philip, explains that Bokonon created a religion after the priests had been expelled. "Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies." There is the idea that the religious practice of the joining of feet brings an intimacy and closeness between individuals. When the narrator is invited to be the next President of San Lorenzo and marry Mona she invites him to take off his shoes and he is nervous. As he takes off his shoes and socks the laces knot, he rips his thumb nail and finally drags the shoe off without undoing the laces. After he tells her that she can not perform this act with anyone else this distresses her, as she feels love should be shared with everyone. Yet when they finally make love, she is repulsed by the act and says it would be sad to bring a baby into the world at that time.

'Papa' who is terminally ill takes the ice-9 in a suicide attempt and dies. They then have the problem of disposing of the evidence and the body. In the ceremony to celebrate the 100 Martyrs, a plane crashes into the foundations of the castle and the structure breaks up and falls into the sea. As the castle disintegrates the bed with papa's body falls into the sea and it is frozen solid. The ensuing crisis kills most of the people and the narrator and Mona emerge from their safe haven, the world is a dangerous place where death is not far away. The last words are given to Bokonon, who says if he had a choice, his final act would be to climb mount McCabe, lie down and take the ice-9, whilst thumbing his nose disrespectfully at God.
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on 23 June 2017
Written in Vonnegut's inimitable nihilistic yet totally wacky style, this is a brilliant quick read that is impossible to put down. Vonnegut was an author who was surrounded by cold war existential dread. Whilst he chooses to scorn this state of affairs through the form of satire, the novel often gives way to a deep sense of dread. You can't help but feel that this book's relevance is once again making itself obvious. As we move again into a time of great instability and uncertainty, coupled with the great advances we continue to make in the biological sciences, you find yourself simultaneously smirking and shivering at the horrifying yet absurd events that unfold.
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on 19 June 2017
An easy read with many amusing parts / soundbites (!). Being so easy to read, lacks some depth in characters which some may miss. unfortunately, ultimately it is bleak. We have not really moved on since then. Perhaps today's threats are more diverse.
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on 5 July 2017
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on 18 August 2007
This is the second book of Vonnegut I've read, the first one being Vonnegut's best know novel, "Slaughterhouse 5". If it was not for "Slaughterhouse 5" I would take "A cat's cradle" as a very imaginative, weird and funny book, but probably not one that keeps me thinking for some time once finished. The tone is just too light and the story too improbable to be taken otherwise. But this is highly deceptive and once you realise that Vonnegut's war experience in Dresden has been central to his vision of life, this book appears not just as light entertainment but as a more profound reflection on the meaning of life (pretty meaningless in the author's view I gather) and, incidentally, on the role of religion and the power science gives to some very irresponsible and unbalanced people (this book was written during the cold war and the possibility of the world being completely wiped out by nuclear war was then seen as very real).

The message may be too pessimistic to make the novel completely enjoyable but it makes for an interesting and very funny read until someone presses the wrong the button.
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on 19 April 2015
Firstly, I wasn’t particularly impressed by Cat’s Cradle at all. I slogged through it and when it was finally finished I breathed a massive sigh of relief. I’m sure people will tell me I just didn’t get it, or I wasn’t open-minded enough but in my pathetic opinion the book boils down to a long-winded discussion that suggests that humanity’s search for purpose and the rational structures it creates to this end are ultimately futile and pointless; just like a game of Cat’s Cradle. We therefore must learn to tolerate ambiguity and the absurdity and contradictions of life.

I identified these themes in the book:

1. How can the religion presented in the book, Bokononism, declare itself to be based on a lie but galvanise such devotion? Vonnegut suggests that the purpose of religion is to give the lives of its followers the illusion of meaning and purpose. It’s needed because science can’t provide all the “keys to life”, which one of Felix’s colleagues suggests is merely a protein: a conclusion which means nothing to people; so religion steps in and fills a perceived void.

2. Felix was indifferent to his actions about not only his children but also the consequences of his work too. For example, he is more concerned about playing Cat’s Cradle than pondering what the effect his “pure research” will have. His pursuit of knowledge is an end in itself and his apathy and trivialization of how his weapons (the atom bomb and ice-nine) are used does not equate to him being an innocent actor: science may have discovered how to cure many of the world’s diseases but it has also discovered how to wipe out all of humanity.

3. Felix’s children are perhaps a representation of all of humanity? They want happiness but have been given the power to destroy all life, suggested directly and indirectly in the book, such as in the model which is built or the insect filled bottle.

4. The Crosbys highlight the risks of holding narrow-minded religious and nationalistic views. Both of these group people together in a somewhat arbitrary way and lead to entrenched world-views resulting in conflict and unhappiness. The book submits that people and nations have a damaging craving for power and arrogantly believe that other people should conform to their particular ideals, especially if those other people are weaker and less privileged then they are. Additionally, this irrational grouping of people generates an illusion of collective identity which is used a yardstick for determining so-called unpatriotic behaviour (think of McCarthyism): should governments take a totalitarian approach to conformity of its own “disloyal” citizens?

And that’s it!

So in summary this was a disappointing read for me. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it more? Good luck!
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on 3 September 2012
Well, that was great fun.
I first read Cat's Cradle as a 16 year old in 1973. I loved it as much as anything I had read up to that point. I re-read it very recently and tried as hard as I could to avoid the rosy glow of nostalgia colouring my impressions.
I hope I succeeded; in any case I found myself shaking my head every few seconds in wonder at the humour, the ideas and the sheer intelligence on display. I think I probably got more out of the book almost 40 years on than I did at the age of 16, but the fact that a novel, essentially of ideas rather than storyline, left such an indelible impression on my adolescent mind is pretty remarkable. I think Vonnegut is held in even greater esteem today than during his lifetime and the predictions of him going the way of Mark Twain in terms of reputation don't seem too fanciful.
So, it was a great re-connection for me and a re-discovery of something dear; then the real fun began when I read the reviews here on Amazon.
Fighting the temptation to slip into `defensive fanboy' mode I still find the content of the negative reviews published here fascinating and provocative. There seem to be a few consistent criticisms;
* The novel and it's themes are `dated' and no longer relevant
* The characters are unbelievable or `unappealing'
* The plot is weak
* There is no central point to the novel
So, is the novel `dated'? Well, it was published in 1973, so by some standards it's bound to be dated - it is nearly 50 years old and our world today is different technologically, politically and environmentally. Given all of that I'm personally astonished at how well it has aged. Yes, we are no longer preoccupied by the Cold War, but with events in Iran how safe do we really feel from the threat of nuclear war? With the rise of militant fundamentalism how less relevant are issues of religion, lies and morality? With global warming how less relevant are the themes of man-made environmental catastrophe and the impact of technology for good and evil? It seems to me that Mr Vonnegut's themes are astonishingly universal and prescient.
The characters in Cat's Cradle are certainly a grotesque and flawed bunch. They don't set out to remind you of your friends and acquaintances or evoke sympathy or empathy. I would challenge anyone, however, not to warm to the character of that old scoundrel Lionel Boyd Johnson (unless his religion offends thee, in which case it's just possible you may have missed the point). Being stupid, careless and thoughtless, of course, doesn't make a character unappealing, merely human.
The plot certainly doesn't attempt to rival Harold Robbins or even Stephen King. No surprise, though, that Mr. K is a big fan of Mr. V. It's actually, I think, a tight little plot which is more than just a series of hooks for the snowstorm of ideas and invention, but if your taste runs to pot-boilers you will have to look elsewhere.
There's no central point to the novel, that's true - but largely because there are more central points as a proportion of words written than in any other novel this side of James Joyce. Personally I find the cat's cradle of ideas about science, religion, family, nationalism and crass but very human stupidity way more exciting than a single central point.
So, am I a misty-eyed fanboy or a detached critic? Bit of both perhaps. Is Cat's Cradle a great American Novel or a dated piece of barely-structured, artsy, baby-boomer sci-fi? I'm going to have to go with the former. Will it still provoke debate and divide opinion in another 50 years' time? I can only hope so. Will the world finally see sense and abandon all religions in favour of Bokononism? What a wonderful world that would be.
Busy, busy, busy.
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on 20 July 2016
pooled ink Reviews:

Kurt Vonnegut’s intriguing novel CAT'S CRADLE is a poignant satire on modern man and the madness of them all. Humorous, sharp, and bursting with imagination, its pages contain words that have caused rivulets of contrasting reactions amongst readers since its publication in the twentieth century.

Read my FULL review here: [...]
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on 18 January 2011
I discovered Kurt Vonnegut's incredible literature just last year, and each book I read I fall a little more in love with the way in which he writes and depicts his ideas and thoughts. Cat's Cradle is a funny, thought provoking and over all incredibly addictive book. With a humorous insight into religion, and other things that mak the world go around, this is definitely one of my favourite Vonnegut so far.
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on 29 September 2014
The copy I received was virtually in mint condition. Hard to imagine anyone had ever read it.
Which is a pity, given Vonnegut brilliantly depicts a world by turns immensely funny and
sad. Everybody should know about Bokonism, a fatalistic religion. To my mind, Cat’s
Cradle is a work of genius that everyone should be required to read; funny but frightening.
The work of an extremely witty and wise man.
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